Henry Winkler (‘Barry’): ‘It would be amazing if I won again!’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Fresh off his overdue Emmy win for “Barry” last year, Henry Winkler is back in the race again with a second consecutive nomination for playing Gene Cousineau in the HBO series. The actor received a standing ovation at last year’s Emmy ceremony.

Winkler recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about being nominated for another Emmy, working with Bill Hader and what might go down in Season 3 of “Barry.” Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Henry, first of all, congratulations on your Emmy nomination this year. Talk us through the morning of.

Henry Winkler: I was in Wyoming fishing for trout and I got the call from Sheri Goldberg, who is my wonderful publicist and she said, “Okay, you got the nomination.” So the trout, a rainbow trout with a beautiful rainbow running through it, my guide and I jumped up and down.

GD: That’s so exciting. You must be thrilled that you’re back to reclaim that trophy.

HW: You know what, I will say that winning the first time was a wonderful thing. Then, being nominated for the second one is a wonderful thing. The configuration of my category is so different from last year that I now just give it up to the gods and play ball with my labradoodle, Sadie.

GD: Let’s talk about your win last year because for many people it was the moment of the night, the standing ovation, you said you wrote this speech 43 years ago and then you thrust that Emmy up into the air. Talk us through that night.

HW: I walk up the stairs after having kissed my wife, kissed Bill, kissed Alec Berg, the two creators of “Barry,” walk up the stairs and I see the two stars of “The Crown” and we had just finished Season 2 and I started talking to them about, “Oh my god, Season 2 was so great.” And then I realized, “Oh, I have to make a speech.” So then I turned around and it said on the big television screen in the back, “37 seconds left.” I had to get my speech in and I just spoke so quickly I didn’t know what to do.

GD: Is it really a blur when you’re walking in there and you’re in a bit of a daze?

HW: You know what, it really is. You think that, “Okay, I’m going to be calm. I’m gonna just do what I’m gonna do. I know my speech,” and you get up there and the adrenaline, it’s just pumping. It’s so exciting that I did not realize until I saw the video afterwards that everybody was standing and applauding. It is a lovely thing. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t make you better. I’m not better than anybody else in my category. All I did was win the statue that is now on my dining room table opposite the front door in my house.

GD: And as you alluded to, that standing ovation, I watched it back the other day just to remind myself because I was so caught up in the moment, I had interviewed you a few weeks prior and it was like I had a horse in the race, so to speak. That was cool but then to see the people in the room, I haven’t seen that many happy people in that room for ages. It was a genuine moment. Were you getting a lot of that feedback after the show?

HW: Yes. That I was. After the show, I started to calm down. I saw Jeff Daniels, who I’m crazy about and Peter Dinklage, who I’m crazy about. It was very exciting and then I did all those interviews. There are about 7,000 interviews backstage and all I kept thinking about is, “My wife is saying, ‘Where is he? I’m sitting here by myself. Where is he?’” And then Bill won. It was magical.

GD: So this year, as you alluded to, you’re up against your co-stars, Anthony Carrigan and Stephen Root. Have you guys been able to develop some kind of weird, friendly rivalry over who’s gonna win or you haven’t really had a chance to touch base on this yet?

HW: I touched base with both of them as soon as I heard. Stephen wrote me back, Anthony wrote me back. I think it would not be great to have any kind of rivalry. Then there is Alan Arkin, who has never won. Then there is Anthony Hale. “Veep” is now a beloved show and gone off the air. If I were to try and figure out, “Is it anywhere possible in this universe,” I would, first of all, be dead and second of all, it’s an impossibility. You just give it up to the heavens.

GD: That’s right, and as you said last year, it was such a great insight ‘cause you said it really is an honor to be nominated. It really, really is until your bum hits the seat, and then all of a sudden you start thinking, “No, I really wanna win.”

HW: And it’s true. I have been through it a few times with the Fonz. Everything is great, everything is great and you sit in your seat, your back feels the velvet of the back of the seat and all you wanna do is win. All you want is for them to call your name and last year they did. It’s just great. So instead of if I’m ever in a show, “Starring Henry Winkler, Emmy Nominated,” it now can say, “Henry Winkler, Emmy Winner.”

GD: Yeah, that’s it forever now. That’s what you’ll be referred to as and that’s really cool. Speaking of, the show itself also improved its nominations haul this year. It seemed to really cement itself as a critical darling in Season 2. It was very, very big in Season 1 but it really exploded this year. Did you get a sense that that happened? What was your perception of what was happening to the show in Season 2?

HW: I got a perception from the people that I work with, my managers, the agents and they all said, “Oh my god, ‘Barry’ is the talk of the town.” You know when you’re on a show that’s working when you travel and you walk through airports in America because people will either say hi, they’ll call you by a character they’ve seen you as, or they say, “Man, ’Barry’ is great. ‘Barry’ is great.” And I hear a lot of the “B” word now. I really do.

GD: It’s pretty cool. When you’re walking, given that you’ve been on TV for such a long time and you’ve been such a well-known person, do you find it annoying when people are constantly bothering you in public or is it something that you’re used to now?

HW: I am used to it. I ask people to give me a half an hour of their time every week every year that I’m on something and they do. Then they come up and they say, “Oh my god, I love you. I watched with my mom. I watched with my grandfather. My whole family got together.” They tell you what is meaningful. If you don’t have the time to listen, there’s a problem. There’s a major problem with you because you’re asking people to watch you and if they say, “I really like what you do,” and you dismiss them, shame on you.

GD: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good attitude to have, to be honest.

HW: Can I interrupt for a minute? Unless I am lost, which is very possible, I get lost, I can’t find the gate, unless I’m late for a meeting or whatever, I then get very nervous. But for the most part, it takes about four or five seconds for that union to happen right then and there. “Hey, I think you’re great.” “Thank you so much, I’m just on my way.” Boom. They feel good, I feel good.

GD: I think that’s the way it’s gotta be and that’s pretty much what most people seem to say, unless you’re not feeling well or you’re in a hurry, you’re lost and so forth. Now, you picked the episode, “What?!” as your Emmy submission. You’ve gotta say it like that because it has a question mark and an exclamation mark because if anyone hasn’t seen it, at the end of the episode, Barry almost turns to the camera and screams out, “What?!” That’s a great episode.

HW: What happens is that he comes to my house and he reveals his darkest, most dangerous secret to me and I am right there with him. I am emotionally involved with him. And I, “Excuse me for a moment, I just am going to get the ledger that I do private classes out of. You’re in pain, I’ll be right back.”

GD: It’s so perfect. It’s exactly what I would have expected from this character. We also see another side of Gene. There’s a part of his life that we haven’t really been privy to before as well. Is that why you picked the episode, we’re seeing different layers of these characters?

HW: You watch the scene, it is deeply touching, I think, and you don’t know where the twist is. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It was one of my favorite scenes.

GD: It’s a good example as well of how you interact with Bill Hader on the show. You’ve obviously talked at length about the chemistry you both have and why it works. In a nutshell, because sometimes this doesn’t happen, this alchemy, why do you think it’s happened between you and Bill to make these two characters work?

HW: That’s a really good question. I have to think about that for a minute because the alchemy is either there or it’s not. You cannot create it out of anything. Either that chemistry exists or a lot of times, you have to do the work of the other actor ‘cause they’re not giving you what you need in the scene so you must pretend. With Bill, he is right there with me. I think it’s respect. I respect him without any doubt and I get the same feeling back from him. We have this wonderful relationship in real life. We go to breakfast together and he’s very open, very warm, very wonderful. And he’s a complicated fellow. He’s also a cinephile. I think that Bill Hader has seen every movie ever made by a human being on the earth and can quote every line.

GD: That’s incredible. Obviously, someone like that will take that into the way they direct and write and that’s why this show, I think, has really blossomed. It’s so artistic. It’s not just a comedy series. There’s so much more to it. It’s very hard to pinpoint ‘cause it’s also quite dark.

HW: I’ve said this before but there was an article last year and the article was, “The New York Times said, “’Barry,’ the first year was so good. I don’t think they should do a second season.” I thought to myself, “That might be true. Second seasons always go down the tubes.” And then I said, “Wait a minute. Who’s in charge? Look what they did. Just be quiet, go to work and let them do what they do.” And then this happened. This second season happened, which was mind-blowing for me because Bill and Alec, they do nine jobs together combined. They are incredibly good at all nine and there is no drama on our set unless it’s written. I think they had a rule that they were not going to hire an asshole, that they were only going to hire lovely people. I think they did. (phone rings) It’s amazing, my phone never rings but when we’re on this chat, it is now like a superphone.

GD: I was just gonna say, wow, you’re having a busy afternoon.

HW: I have a hard line. They are dinosaurs. My son, Max, does not have a hard line. He only has his cellphone. It’s shocking.

GD: Can you imagine 10 years ago? I don’t have a landline either. 10 years ago that would never have been the case and now no one seems to use them anymore.

HW: No, and I love them! I have them in every room and I look at them. I pick them up, I call people on them.

GD: Yeah, it’s tactile and you can press the numbers. It’s a whole different ballgame. With “Barry,” I had the same feeling. After Season 1, I was like, “Okay, that was perfect. I’m good if they don’t do another one because they can’t top it.” And they did. The second season is obviously slightly darker, which is great. It’s violent, it’s very funny and it’s extremely touching and that’s because of the performances and that’s why we’ve got so many nominees from the show and the nominations total exploded. What could possibly happen in Season 3 to top that?

HW: I just saw Alec Berg at an HBO party where I met the women from “Warrior.” I don’t know if you watch “Warrior” on Cinemax but all of the women were there. What a show. But anyway, I asked Alec and he said, “Wow, when you figure that out, you tell me.” Because the last line of the show is my realization that my student killed my girlfriend. What do I do? Do I carry a gun? Do I go after him? Do I become now the hunter? I have no idea. Do I act the assassin? I have no idea.

GD: It’s so exciting. It really is. We care about this show now. We wanna see what’s gonna happen and that’s so cool.

HW: That’s a lovely thing to say. That’s great.

GD: Last year you told me that reading a script to “Barry” was like reading cashmere. Obviously, the show’s writing will always make or break the show so thinking about the writing…

HW: Can I just say, that is the truth about entertainment in toto. If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage. You can try and make something happen that isn’t there but when it is written and is thoughtful and every line means something and connects to something said on Page 12 and now you’re speaking on Page 42, it’s an amazement to watch the construction and they have one, two, three, four or five other writers in their room and each one of them is great.

GD: Yeah, I think you pretty much answered it but the question was going to be something like, when it’s so good, you don’t have to try too hard as a performer. Does that allow you freedom to focus on other things like nuance? I’m not really sure but I’m wondering, does it make your job easier so you can focus on other things?

HW: It is true because the simplicity of the writing in the structures comes freedom. I first heard that from a ballet dancer, that the steps are exactly same for a famous ballet like “Swan Lake” but it is what your being brings to that particular step inside the choreography that makes it fly. The same is true for an actor. Bill and Alec are very clear about what they want and then inside that structure, you can ad-lib, you can go awry, they will bring you back, they will incorporate your thought, but if there is no structure, then there’s no place to start. There’s no foundation of the actual piece.

GD: It brings me back to this, it took you 40 years to win that much deserved Emmy and now you’re back. We’ve alluded to this before, and if you win again, it’s a very rare thing ‘cause it doesn’t happen often in this particular category. The last time a guy won back to back was Jeremy Piven 11 years ago, so that would be something cool, more history making. The question is, is the pressure off for the second win? It’s not such a huge, monumental, big weight on your shoulders if you don’t happen to win again?

HW: On the one hand, on the adult me, absolutely that is true. I’ve thought that through. On the child me, it would be amazing if I won again. (Dog walks in) What are you doing? Come here. This is Sadie. Say hi. She is a labradoodle and she is a year and a half old. I had to get her because she was gonna get a squeaky toy at which time we will all be driven insane.

GD: (Laughs.) Sadie, just one more minute, okay, and then we’re done. My final question for both you and Sadie is, I’m hoping you’re aware that… forget about Critics’ Choice and Emmys, you’ve been nominated for a Gold Derby Award as well. We just wanted to congratulate you on that.

HW: Thank you. I just saw that last week and I am thrilled because you guys put yourselves on the line for taste, for who you think is going to win in every category of every award, actually. So to be nominated by you guys is pretty fantastic.

GD: Well, thank you so much, Henry, for your time. Good luck at the Emmys. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed for you and we’ll see you soon.

HW: Thank you and we’re very happy that we were able to be here.

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